HARTFORD, Conn. – This year was arguably the best in Connecticut golf annals, and 2020 is set up to be even better.
The game’s 2019 success in the Lady of Steady Habits began with the Travelers Championship having its best field since the insurance giant became title sponsor in 2007, leading to a tournament record for money raised for charity of more than $2.1 million despite heavy rain that caused some logistical problems at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell early in the week and several marquee players failing to make the cut.
The tournament donates 100 percent of its net proceeds to charity, and this year’s record effort brings the amount generated since Travelers became title sponsor in 2007 to nearly $20 million. At least 750 charities have benefited in the event’s first 11 years, and the current chief beneficiary is The Hole in the Wall Gang in Ashford, founded by the late actor Paul Newman.
It was the latest example of Travelers Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer Andy Bessette’s motto that “The Status Quo Is Unacceptable” in setting the tone for trying to improve the tournament every year and helped lead to it rightfully receiving a “President’s Award” from the Connecticut Sports Writers Alliance. The award is given to “an individual, team or organization that has made a significant and positive impact on the state’s sports landscape,” and the tournament certainly qualifies on all fronts.
The biggest sporting event in Connecticut has raised more than $40 million for over 750 charities since it began in 1952 as the Insurance City Open at Wethersfield Country Club, and tournament director Nathan Grube said the record take this year was largely the result of increases in advance ticket sales and corporate sales. Trravelers basically saved the event when it became title sponsor and has helped finance major upgrades such as a new $4.5 million, 23-acre, state-of-the-art practice facility that included The First Tee of Connecticut Learning Center and adjacent four-hole mini-course geared toward nearly 70,000 youngsters involved with TFTCT in 2008; $3.5 million in course enhancement focusing on the fairways and bunkers after the 2016 tournament; and $17 million for renovation of the clubhouse that increased the facility from 10,000 to 40,000 and opened in June.
The Travelers also emphatically demonstrated its dedication to the tournament in 2014, when it became the first title sponsor to sign a 10-year contract extension with the PGA Tour.
On the course last year, Chez Reavie rallied from an 11-stroke deficit midway through the second round to notch his second PGA Tour victory, the other coming in the 2008 RBC Canadian Open. A record-tying, back-nine, 6-under-par 28 that featured seven birdies enabled Reavie to vault from six strokes back to a record six ahead entering the final round. Reavie, coming off a tie for third in the U.S. Open the previous week, staved off fast-closing Vermont native Keegan Bradley and Zach Sucher for a four-stroke victory at 17-under 263.
When Bradley birdied the 15th hole, Reavie’s lead was down to one stroke, but that dramatically changed at No. 17, where Reavie made a birdie 3 and Bradley a double-bogey 6. The victory, worth $1,296,000, was especially meaningful for Reavie, who was sidelined for two of the 11 years of his victory drought due to several injuries, most notably major wrist surgery.
“When I was in a long-arm cast after my wrist surgery, I went and met with the doctor, and he said the surgery went great,” Reavie said after his first victory in 250 starts and 3,983 days. “But there was a 50/50 shot whether it was going to work, and there was no guarantee that I wasn’t going to go make one full swing when he allowed me to and it wasn’t going to happen again. So those were probably the darkest days. Just the unknown and sitting at home not being able to do anything and your mind wandering, ‘Okay, if it didn’t work, if I can’t play golf, what am I going to do?’
“So this win means everything. I knew Keegan was going to come out firing and ready to go. I’ve played a lot of golf with him, and he’s a fantastic player. I just was fortunate enough to stay patient and make that big putt on 17 to give myself a little cushion on 18. Being in the second-to-last group the last day of the U.S. Open definitely gave me a lot of confidence coming into this week, and particularly (Sunday). I played really well on Sunday at the U.S. Open, and I tried to treat this week the same as I did then.”
Reavie will defend his title June 25-28, and his competition will include No. 2-ranked Rory McIlroy, the 2019 PGA Tour Player of the Year who made an extremely early commitment to the tournament in October. McIlroy won the season-ending Tour Championship and the FedExCup title for the second time. He was at TPC River Highlands in 2017 and 2018, but scheduling conflicts caused him to bypass the tournament this year.
McIlroy gave the early commitment to Bessette and Grube before winning the Tour Championship. The personable, straight-talking Northern Irishman notched a four-stroke victory to win the record $15 million first prize in the FedExCup race. He joined Tiger Woods as the only players to win that title twice, moving to second in the rankings behind Brooks Koepke, the first player to commit to this year’s Travelers Championship in January who earned PGA of America Player of the Year via a points system.
“I really missed playing at TPC River Highlands this year, so I’m looking forward to coming back in 2020,” McIlroy said in a tournament release. “The Travelers Championship is one of the best events on the PGA Tour with a tremendous atmosphere, great fans, an awesome practice facility and now a new clubhouse that I can’t wait to see.”
McIlroy, 30, had one of his best PGA Tour seasons ever with 14 Top-10 finishes in 19 starts. He also won The Players Championship and RBC Canadian Open, matching Koepka for most victories on the PGA Tour. McIlroy has 17 PGA Tour titles, including four major championships: the 2011 U.S. Open, 2014 Open Championship and 2012 and 2014 PGA Championship. He’ll again try to become only the sixth player to win the career Grand Slam in the Masters in April.
This year also marked the first PGA of America national events in Connecticut, with the Girls and Boys Junior Championships being played in July and early August at Keney Park Golf Course in Hartford, which underwent a $4 million facelift four years ago. Nearly 300 youngsters, including 15 from Connecticut, competed in the prestigious event, and Ben James of Milford, 16, a junior at Hamden Hall Country Day School, tied for ninth in the boys event on the way to becoming the youngest member of the 12-player United States team that defeated the International side 13-11 in the Junior Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne Golf Club in Australia. He won his two team matches and lost his singles.
The state will host an even bigger national championship in 2020 when the third U.S. Senior Women’s Open is played at Brooklawn Country Club in Fairfield on July 9-12. One local player quite interested in competing again is Suzy Whaley, the first female officer in PGA of America history who will completing her two-year reign as president when the Connecticut Section PGA hosts the organization’s annual meeting Oct. 25-30 in Hartford.
“To have Brooklawn Country Club host our newest championship is truly special for the USGA family and will continue to build the strong momentum we have created for the U.S. Senior Women’s Open Championship,” said John Bodenhamer, USGA senior managing director, championships. “The support we have received from the golf community surrounding the U.S. Senior Women’s Open has been extraordinary. We are excited to celebrate the unique camaraderie and competition of this championship as we bring it to Connecticut.”
The tournament will be the third USGA Open championship and fifth overall hosted by Brooklawn CC. The club, founded in 1895, hosted the 1974 U.S. Junior Amateur Championship, won by David Nevatt; the 1979 U.S. Women’s Open, won by Jerilyn Britz; the 1987 U.S. Senior Open, won by Gary Player; and the 2003 U.S. Girls’ Junior, won by 16-year-old Sukjin-Lee Wuesthoff.
“Brooklawn is thrilled to continue our long-standing relationship with the USGA,” said Rick Ryan, general chair of the third U.S. Senior Women’s Open Championship. “We can’t think of a better way to celebrate our club’s 125th anniversary than hosting this significant USGA championship.”
The most recent of the 13 previous USGA championships contested in Connecticut was the 2008 U.S. Girls’ Junior at Hartford Golf Club, where current LPGA Tour standout Lexi Thompson became the second-youngest champion at 13. The U.S. Senior Women’s Open is open to professional females, and amateur females with a Handicap Index not exceeding 7.4, who have reached their 50th birthday as of the first day of the championship. The field will include 120 players, who will earn entry via sectional qualifying at sites nationwide or through an exemption category. Laura Davies won the inaugural championship in 2018 at Chicago Golf Club, and Helen Alfredsson captured this year’s event at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club in Southern Pines, N.C.
In 2003, Suzy Whaley became the first woman in 58 years to qualify for a PGA Tour event when she won the 2002 Connecticut Section PGA Championship to earn a spot in the 2003 Greater Hartford Open (now Travelers Championship). She also was the first woman to win a PGA individual professional tournament, is recognized by Golf for Women as a top 50 female instructor and is a board member and advisor for numerous organizations, including Golfer Girl Magazine. She is an LPGA Teaching and Club Professional (T&CP) member who played on the LPGA Tour in 1990 and 1993.
Whaley, 51, a longtime Connecticut resident who now lives in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., also captained the United States team to victory in October in the inaugural Women’s PGA Cup, the first-of-its-kind team competition for women PGA members from the around the world, at Omni Barton Creek Resort & Spa in Austin, Texas. She will preside at the PGA’s annual meeting, which will focus on the members and growing the game. Approximately 750-800 PGA officers, board members, delegate, staff and special guests are expected to attend, and they will gather at the Convention Center to plan the path for the association’s future and conduct a scheduled election for the offices of president, vice president, secretary and honorary president.
“It is exciting to see a city growing in its revitalization like Hartford host the PGA annual meeting in 2020,” Whaley said. “We look forward to our PGA membership enjoying everything Hartford has to offer.”
The Marriott Hartford Downtown is designated as the official hotel. Located in the progressive Front Street District of Hartford, the hotel overlooks the Connecticut River and is interconnected with the Connecticut Convention Center. The nearby Hilton Hartford will be reserved for any additional rooms or space needed.
The Connecticut PGA Section, which comprises the Connecticut and Western-Central Massachusetts, will serve as host Section. It will be the first major PGA of America event scheduled within the footprint of the Section, which has 355 PGA professionals, including 297 PGA members and 58 PGA associates.
“We are looking forward to hosting the association’s annual meeting for the first time ever,” Section president Ian Marshall said. “It’s always an honor and a privilege to attend an annual meeting, and I’m excited that many more of our members will have that opportunity in 2020.”
2019 CONNECTICUT PLAYERS OF THE YEAR
Kyle Bilodeau, PGA Active Member: Clinched first Connecticut Section PGA Player of the Year Award when he beat 2018 Section POY Chris Tallman in the semifinals of the Match Play Championship, which he won with a 4-and-3 victory over Mike Martin. Bilodeau also won the Connecticut Section Championship in a playoff with Tallman and Donny Kirkpatrick and the Mohegan Sun PGA Pro-Am #2, tied for first in the Mohegan Sun PGA Pro-Am #3 and among Section pros in the Western Massachusetts Open, finished second in the Spring Stroke Play Championship, the Connecticut Assistant PGA Championship and PGA Pro-Veteran and among Section pros in the Manchester Open, tied for second in the Mohegan Sun PGA Pro-Am #4, tied for fourth in the PGA Pro-Assistant Championship and Travelers Championship Pre-Qualifier, tied for eighth in the Walter Lowell PGA Tournament, tied for 11th in the Connecticut PGA Championship and qualified for the Connecticut Open, where he missed the cut.
Senior Professional Male
Fran Marrello, Canaan Country Club: Earned a record ninth Connecticut Section PGA Senior Player of the Year title thanks largely to winning the PGA Senior Championship to increase his Section individual victories to a record 24, being low senior (fourth overall) in the Connecticut PGA Championship, tying for low senior in the Spring Stroke Play, finishing second in the Connecticut Senior Open, tying for fourth in the Walter Lowell PGA Tournament and reaching the semifinals in the Match Play Championship. The 2009 inductee into the Connecticut Golf Hall of Fame also qualified for the PGA of America Senior Professional Championship, where he was the only Section player to make the cut, and the 2020 PGA Professional National Championship.
Richard Dowling, Eclub of Connecticut: Won Connecticut State Golf Association Amateur Championship and CSGA Two-Man Championship with Nick Taylor, tied for second in CSGA Public Links, finished third in CSGA Mid-Amateur and tied for seventh in the CSGA Amateur stroke play qualifying.
Senior Amateur Male
Dave Szewczul, Tunxis Plantation Country Club, Farmington: Edged close friend and frequent playing partner Bill Hermanson of the Black Hall Club in Old Lyme (1,050.33 points to 1,007.66) to earn a record ninth CSGA Senior Player of the Year Award after he won the New England Super Senior Championship, tied for first in the Manchester Four-Ball Senior Division, CSGA Senior Match Play stroke play qualifying and low Connecticut finisher (fourth overall) in the New England Senior Amateur, finished second to Hermanson in the CSGA Senior Amateur, tied for third in the CSGA Super Senior Division and the CSGA Senior Four-Ball with Hermanson, tied for 17th in the CSGA Tournament of Champions Senior Division and reached Round of 16 in the CSGA Senior Match Play. He also finished 21st in the race for the Player of the Year Award, which he has won twice. He’s the only player to earn the POY and Senior POY Awards in the same year.
Natalie Sheary, West Hartford: Made 13 of 20 cuts and had four Top-20 finishes on the way to 80th on the Symetra Tour money list with $15,430.
Jen Holland, Lyman Orchards GC, Middlefield: Received the CSGA Liz Janangelo Caron Women’s Player of the Year Award for the second consecutive year after winning the Southern New England Women’s Golf Association Senior Championship and Connecticut State Women’s Amateur Senior Division and earning the only spot in the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship qualifier, finishing third in the State Women’s Amateur and SNEWGA Individual Championship, fourth in the Women’s Tournament of Champions and tied for 11th in the New England Women’s Golf Association Championship.
Ben James, Great River Golf Club, Milford: The junior at Hamden Hall Country Day School won two of three matches as the youngest player (16 years old) on the 12-player United States team that defeated the International side 13-11 in the Junior Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne Golf Club in Australia. He qualified for the team after he won the American Junior Golf Association Killington (Vt.) Junior Golf Championship, New England Junior, CSGA Junior and Northern Junior, finished second in the AJGA Wyndham Invitational, was low amateur and third overall in the Connecticut Open and low state finisher (tied for ninth) in the Boys PGA Junior Championship at Keney Park Golf Club in Hartford and tied for 18th (12th among U.S. players) in the AJGA Junior Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra, Fla., to clinch a spot on the U.S. team. He also was named to the Rolex Junior All-American second team by the AJGA and honored at the Rolex Junior All-American Awards Banquet on Nov. 23 at PGA National Resort & Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
Sophia Sarrazin, Great River Golf Club: The 15-year-old sophomore at the Hamden Hall Country Day School won the Borck Junior Golf Tournament and AJGA Mahong Valley Hospital Foundation Junior All-Star Tournament in Ohio, finished fifth in the Connecticut Junior PGA Championship, tied for 10th in the Hartford Women’s Open and finished 75th in the PGA of America’s Junior Girls Championship at Keney Park GC.